By Richard L. Gaw
During their Dec. 16 meeting, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors signed a proclamation stating that the origins of the township date back to 1714. That was the easy part; the research in uncovering the proof of the date took the township's Historical Commission through a maze of documents and archives.
Before the board and nearly 40 township residents, historical commission member Dr. Margaret “Peg” Jones and associate member Chris Robinson gave a presentation about their search to locate the earliest document containing the date and the words “New Garden Township.” The initiative was to investigate the original research that stated that the township was founded in 1700, which was signed into proclamation in 1981 by Sen. Dominic Pileggi as part of the Commonwealth's 300thanniversary.
The reason for the erroneous date may have been directly traced to when the area the township now encompasses was included in a survey made “about 1700” for the 30,000 acres owned by William Penn, Jr., and his sister, Letitia.
Historically, a township was "incorporated," "settled," "chartered,""'founded" or established by existing landowners petitioning a county to downsize their tax collection area to a more manageable area. But where was that petition – commonly known as a court decree, and when did it first say, “New Garden Township”?
In contrast to New Garden, other area townships have long-established incorporation dates: Kennett Township was established in 1705, London Britain in 1725; London Grove in 1723; and Franklin in 1852.
Working with the Chester County Archives, Jones and Robinson researched all legal documents that pertained to the area that is now New Garden, from the years 1700 to 1720. The period was chosen based on historical evidence that proved the area was rich in settlers, many of whom would have had their land surveyed.
The problem that the researchers encountered was that the official court decree that gave the area's residents the status of Township is lost, and no record of it exists in the County Archives. In addition, they said, Chester County court records from 1682 to 1710 contain no evidence of a New Garden Township. Their research also came across the earliest known land patent in the vicinity of what is now New Garden Township, one issued in 1708 to Mary Rowland, who was identified in the document as being a resident of “Penn Jr. Manor.” By 1714, at least 6,000 acres were sold to settlers in Penn Jr. Manor.
During 1710-13, a period when court decrees might have created documents that read New Garden Township, Robinson could not track down clear evidence of the township's existence by name.
After additional research and assistance from the Chester County archivist, Robinson eventually found what he was looking for. In a General Quarter Sessions document issued on May 25, 1714, under the heading, “Township,” it states that John Rentfro served as constable for New Garden. The document was located at the Chester County Archives in a binder that contained the records from Quarter Session from May 1710 to May 1723.
Robinson also found a land deed using the words, New Garden Township, dated to 1715, “so we know very well that New Garden Township was in existence at the time that deed was executed,” Jones said. “The commission really feels that if we’re going to have a date, that we can best say that New Garden Township was established in 1714.”
The Historical Commission chose to share their research before the end of the year to thank the board for their support, as well as to allow for the signatures of outgoing board members Bob Perrotti and Bob Norris, each of whom are ending their terms on the board at the end of the month – to be able to sign the proclamation “on their watch.”
Robinson said that he found the uncovering of the 1714 date “satisfactorily definitive and coincidentally jubilant,” especially given that 2014 will mark the tri-centennial of New Garden Township.
“As a historical detective novice, this research was fascinating and rewarding,” Robinson said. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with Dr. Peggy Jones, using the invaluable assistance of the Chester County archivists Cliff Parker and Kim Bucklaw, and having the ongoing enthusiasm of the New Garden Historical Commission and assistance from member Mary Sproat.
“For those interested in sleuthing historical conundrums and for untold stories rooted in Chester County, I encourage them to do so,” he added. “It is fun! There's lots of accessible data in Chester County archives. All one needs is someone to 'connect the documents.'”